Making Wise Food Choices…with Ashley Koff, RD |

Making Wise Food Choices…with Ashley Koff, RD

Ashley Koff is a registered dietician (R.D.), who strives to make better nutrition a way of life for all. She was named among the Top 10 Registered Dieticians in the Top 10 Registered Dietitians in the US, by Today’s Dietitian Magazine, as well as by Citysearch as Best of LA’s “Nutritionist/Dietitians,‛ three years running.

She launched Ashley Koff Approved — AKA — in 2008 as a way to house all aspects of her private practice, her work educating doctors and other healthcare practitioners and her product endorsement opportunities.

AKA helps consumers everywhere readily identify products that meet Koff’s standards for nutrition.

So…  you’re a registered dietician and you have this neat website, AKA. Can you talk about how you’re revolutionizing the way America eats? Looks like you offer some detailed lists that help people pick the ‘right’ foods?

Over the last ten years, I have heard the same question, whether it was from my patients, other healthcare practitioners or the media. Everyone was asking me “Okay, so then what do I buy?”

Too often we provide recommendations for something based on its reported health benefits without realizing that within a grocery store and certainly between different grocery outlets there is a vast difference in the products sold in one category.

Just look at cereals, fish oil supplements, yogurts – the aisles are dizzying and if you are trying to balance a budget, your time and your diet to get optimal nutrition – sorting through these variances can be quite challenging.

SO…I created AKA as the stamp of quality nutrition for optimal health.  The AKA list is a way to sort through it all – the ingredients, the marketing messages, the behind-the-scenes nutrition questions and the nutrition fact panels.  You can take your AKA list to the store, pull it up on your phone, and even see products carrying the AKA logo on their package for easy recognition.

AKA means that the product is healthiER than others, that it is part of a QUALITARIAN lifestyle, which is defined as making the best quality choice you can at any given moment.

What it does not mean is that I’ve been paid to review or approve a product. AKA can’t be bought; it’s earned.

Is there a Short List of AKA items, i.e. a set of ‘rules’ people can use to pick the right foods? Perhaps describe the standards you use to place something on your AKA list?

I wish there was a short list! It would make my job so much easier. But the issue is that in each category of food there are considerations that are different and challenges to selecting the best.

If it’s a food, it should be food without chemicals. For example, it should not contain ingredients that are genetically modified, artificial, made in a lab versus in nature, accessories that prioritize convenience over health – these are the big NOs.

I also believe the marketing messages need to be truthful and not misleading. Are you telling a consumer about what’s not in the product because you don’t have anything nice to say about what is in the product?

We see that Earth Balance® products made your list – we’re happy about that. What made you add them?

Earth Balance makes products from whole food ingredients that are healthIER and great tasting – that makes them AKA.

Can you please discuss why we should try to avoid preservatives and additives? And are some preservatives and additives less harmful than others?

In an age where emergency room visits due to food allergies and food borne illness have grown exponentially, and in a century where the largest growing area of diseases are ones we don’t have cures for (as well as are defined by the body attacking itself because it is confused), I don’t think there’s any way to say that some artificial ingredients are acceptable.

There are preservatives found in nature (sugar, salt) and if they are used within reason they can be part of a healthy diet. For the other artificial preservatives and additive, I say zero tolerance is best.

When we put things into the body it doesn’t recognize, they slow it down, potentially irritate it, detract it from its daily functions and cause the body to be less efficient. Reduced efficiency creates the opportunity for imbalances and disease.

And the key thing is that nothing artificial is needed…ever. It’s not like we lost a limb and needed a new one, or had to replace an adult tooth. In food products there is always the option of using something from nature to play the role that the artificial ingredient plays.

Artificial is used is to create artificially long shelf life, artificially prettIER color or texture, or to generate a higher level of flavor than nature’s food does.

So the only rationale for artificial is that we want our food to do more or be more than nature intended – and that is a prescription for our bodies to do things beyond what they are naturally meant …and not in a good way.

We read your article about genetically-modified (GM) foods being the Secondhand Smoke of the 21st Century. From a health and nutrition standpoint, why are GM foods bad for us?

GM creates things that do not exist in nature, and then we eat these things or their products and what happens to our bodies? The truth is we just don’t know.

There are rat studies that show GMO food created infertility in just three generations – do you think fertility issues are more common today than they were three generations ago?  The key products that are GMO – soy and corn – top the list as food allergens today and there are more emergency room visits as well as diagnoses of food allergies today, exponentially more, than there were decades ago.

But the real issue, is that GMOs have made us a “human experiment” because they have not been tested on humans for long-term effect. All we know is that the DNA of plants and their fruit are altered. And when just one GMO seed occurs in our farm and then food supply, it spreads via birds, the wind, humans, animals, waste etc. And then we no longer have any option for going back.

So what happens when science concludes GMO has a role in disease or allergies or fertility or hormone imbalance?  Then we have no recourse but to rely on medications and medical treatments and our opportunity to prevent health issues will be taken from us…from just one seed.

And what makes them the worst for us? The fact that they are entirely unnecessary. We can and do farm and grow food healthier, and in sufficient quantity to healthfully feed us all.

Most of the people who use this site are following a specific lifestyle diet – vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. Do you have specific advice for how we be as healthy as possible and pick the right foods?

I believe in a Qualitarian lifestyle diet – and this encompasses vegans and vegetarians. The key issue is that a diet devoid of animal products can be so healthy for you and the environment – but it isn’t that way just in name. It requires the same choices that anyone make – making the best quality choice at any given eating occasion.

Highly-processed vegan food may be better because no animals were harmed, but tell your small intestine that as it tries to feel good from the junk it just got…it may not applaud your efforts.

Similarly, we discussed genetic engineering above. The question of soy – good or bad – comes up often too. What we do know is that soybeans have been consumed for thousands of years as part of a healthy diet; isolated soy protein and genetically modified soy for only a few decades and we can’t exactly say we are our healthiest today.

And last but not least – vegan and vegetarian both start with veg…as in start and focus on your veg-gies…just because you call yourself a vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean you have veggie credits stored up and you don’t have to eat them as often as everyone else.

Au contraire, to get your optimal nutrition you have to eat them as often and to live up to your dietary namesake you should eat them more often.

Because this is a holiday bake-off and we’re all eating a lot of sweets, can you give us your stance on baked goods? Or maybe some advice we haven’t heard?

Did you say Bake-Off…as in contest or competition?! Now you’ve got my attention…I can be fiercely competitive! My advice? If you are in it, be in it to win it! Go with a favorite or try a new concoction but make the baked good taste and look like the best thing you’ve ever seen and consumed.

Try spices, try bitters, try grains, try fruits, try it all…and as you are trying it, keep drinking your water, cleansing your palate with veggies like celery and cucumber and parsley, and then go for a run or a walk or a climb to contemplate how you can make it better. In short, have fun over the holidays.

Choose good quality foods, choose great quality tastes, and keep up with your sleep and exercise regime. And my final note: a holiDAY is just that – its one day, maybe eight, maybe one day twice in a month…but it’s not the whole month or three whole months – and one day, even eight days, never brought anyone down for the long term.

For more on this story, please visit

Posted on: December 14, 2010